Blog Archive - September 2013

Posted: September 17, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I interview clients to obtain information needed to write a resume.  Many of them, as many as a third, talk about their work as “We”: “We follow a Six Sigma Methodology for project management.”  “We measure sales success based on new accounts.”  I’ll often stop clients who do this and remind them that employers do not hire “we.”  They hire you.  Whether you are writing a resume or interviewing for a job, it’s important to let the interviewer know what you can do.

When you use collective or team-based language, the employer has no way to understand what you did.  Some people are uncomfortable using the first person, but it is necessary if you want to give the employer a clear picture of what you can do, what value you will bring to the company.  It is equally important to use language that anyone in the industry will understand.  When a client uses something that sounds like company jargon, I’ll ask: Will anyone working in your industry understand that term?  If not, it’s time to do a little translation.

Keep the focus on you and the value you will bring to the employer.  Practice saying sentences that start with “I.”  The employer needs to know who you are and what your best selling points are.  Don’t exaggerate your skills and achievements.  But it is equally important that you don’t undersell what you have to offer.  Know why you are good at what you do and be able to tell that story to potential employers.

Posted: September 16, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

This story began with a brave action when the Washington D.C. City Council refused to give in to Walmart’s pressure over a living wage ordinance.  The Council passed a bill requiring that companies like the nation’s largest retailer pay a minimum wage of $12.50 per hour.  The less-than-brave, lame duck (and just plain lame) mayor vetoed the bill.

Now, as Laura Clawson reports in Daily Kos, another turn has taken place.  Councilman and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells has proposed a city-wide minimum wage of  $10.25.  At first glance, this sounds good.  The wage is higher than that advocated by President Obama, and it is a quarter more than the minimum wage law passed recently in California.

What’s wrong with this proposal?  Walmart saves $2.25 per hour.  Wells was part of the minority that opposed the original ordinance.  Now he offers a compromise that will protect companies like Walmart (large retailers).  Washington voters need to ask:  “Mr. Wells, which side are you on?”

P.S.  Abby Zimet in Common Dream explains how Walmart’s owners, the Walton family, uses loopholes to keep more and more money.  Couldn’t just a little trickle down?

Posted: September 15, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that explore a wide range of topics beyond the worlds of work and career.]

Craft and Craftiness

A couple of weeks ago I saw a commercial for a new beer called Third Shift.  Everything about the commercial’s production screamed “mass produced,” but the content of the commercial would make one think Third Shift was a craft beer.  It’s really made by Coors.  A few days ago, while watching a Cubs game, I saw a new commercial from Blue Moon, which described the product as “crafted.”  In both cases, I would use the wordy crafty.  If the big boys (Miller-Coors, Bud) are moving this way in advertising, we know that craft beer (and craft products in general) are winning a strong place in the market.

Some of us consumers are willing to pay more for locally brewed beer and roasted coffee.  We ignore the loss leader sales at the supermarket to buy from local farmers and small bakeries. We enjoy talking with the farmer that raises the hog or picks the apples.  It’s comforting to know that the coffee roaster donates to a local school’s fundraiser.  A large corporation can provide a better price and more selection, but – however it markets itself – it can never be a neighbor.

If you live in the Chicago area, craft work – including local brews – will be celebrated at City Made Fest in Andersonville (Clark Street between Argyle and Carmen).  The festival will take place on Saturday September 21 and Sunday, September 22 from Noon- 9 p.m.  Among the brewers featured will be two of my favorites, Revolution Brewing and Metropolitan Brewery.  I’m also looking forward to trying new brewers and exploring the work of local artists and food vendors.

Festivals like City Made, local farmers markets, and stores that sell craft products give us a chance to support local business and enjoy food and drink that are more flavorful and often healthier.  When we buy local, we make our communities stronger and remind large corporations that they are not the only game in town.  In the end, care and quality win out.  True craft beats crafty.

Posted: September 14, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I’ve had a big problem over the last week:  my company’s email system was down.  In that time, a few clients called to ask what was wrong, which I appreciate.  It also let me remind them of one of my most important career management strategies:  If it’s important, call rather than email.

It’s very easy to dodge email contacts.  If you’re clumsy like me, it’s also easy to delete or clump email together in a way that makes it easy to lose a connection.  Finally, as in my sad case, there are times when systems go down.  Generally speaking, none of these problems are as bad if you use the phone.

I also prefer phone contacts because they enable better communication.  If you follow up on a job interview by phone you can ask questions and engage the employer in a way that email does not allow.  You can also set up another interview in real time rather than going back and forth by email.

If it’s important, use the phone.  It’s the best way to follow up.

Posted: September 12, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Clients will often call me and ask me about how they can use LinkedIn or work with a recruiter.  After I ask a few questions, the truth usually comes out: They are reluctant to look for a job.  I don’t mean this as a criticism.  I know no one who wants to perform this task.  Looking for work sucks, but it’s the only way for most people to find a new job.

When a job seeker relies on a headhunter or a LinkedIn profile to find her  next employer, she is conducting a “passive job search.”  A few people find a job using this method.  Most people, however, have to take initiative to network and reply to job posts, which is call an “active job search.”  Employers tend to look for employees only when they are high skilled or have an unusual skill.  Otherwise, they expect job seekers to come to them through network contacts or by responding to job posts.

Technology has made our lives easier in every way.  It has made finding a job slightly easier, and it has given us tools like LinkedIn that we can use to improve networking.  That said, we still need to be proactive in finding employers and convincing them that we are qualified for the position they need.  In most cases, the job won’t find you.  You have to find it.

Posted: September 10, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

The Miami Heat?

The Baltimore Ravens?


Nope.  It’s the 1% stomping all challengers in the income game.  Al Jazeera America reports that the richest of the rich collect 19.3% of all income earned in the U.S. in 2012, which is the largest share in IRS records for the past century.  95% of income increases since 2009 have gone to the top 1%, which is defined as income over $394,000 in 2012.

In some ways, these numbers aren’t surprising because they are part of a trend, more of the same.  What is surprising is that so many Americans accept this situation as normal.  Since the Reagan presidency, tax laws have been rigged to help the most wealthy.  Meanwhile, the middle class pays more of its declining income to support the social programs needed by employees of companies like Walmart and McDonalds that pay low wages.  99% of America needs a raise.



Posted: September 10, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients is very talented.  However, she was very hesitant about networking.  She thought no one would want to help somebody else get a job in a competitive market.

I asked her to start networking in a simple way:  Call the three people who are her references, let them know she is looking for work, and ask for advice.  Two days later she had an interview with a company much better than the one that laid her off.  Networking doesn’t always work this way.  Sometimes clients have done everything correctly, and networking brings no results.  That said, everyone should network, especially people who are looking for work.

Make a list of 10-20 people who know you as a professional. Here’s my suggestion about how you should ask for help:  “I want to call you because I’m looking for a new job.  You know me and how I work, and I’d appreciate it if you’d take a few minutes and give me some advice.  What do you think I should do in my job search?”

Keep the conversation open and listen carefully.  If a network contact gives you advice that is bad or useless, take it for what it is and be grateful for the time your contact has given you.  If the advice is good, follow up quickly and let your contact know that you’ve done so.  If your network connection suggests that you contact a certain person a potential employer, ask if you could use her name or if she will make an introduction.  Always end your conversations by finding out if there is any way you can help people in your network.

Networking isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always work.  However, a good network connection can lead you to jobs you didn’t know exist.  It can also open doors quickly.  Make networking part of your job search and career management strategy.  Start with those people who know you best, your references.  If you’re like my client, an interview with a great company can be in your future.

Posted: September 8, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays this blog looks beyond the world of work and careers in Sabbath.]

The National Pastimes

I grew up a baseball fan and still love the game.  Baseball is the summer game, and it has a fascinating history that goes back more than 100 years.  A baseball game can turn in an instant on a pitch, hit, error, or base-running mistake.  People who love baseball like the game’s pace, which is slow and deliberative.

America’s other pastime is much more fast and ferocious.  Today is the first Sunday of the NFL season.  No one seems to care about an off-season filled with stories about head injuries.  Pro football rules the American sports scene.  It’s not unusual for me to watch two or three games on Sunday.  And, as hypocritical as it sounds, I still get excited when there’s a big hit.  Every week there are offensive and defensive highlights that relayed from Monday through Saturday.  Football invites viewers to get into the game in a way that baseball does not.

Part of the difference between the two sports is frequency of games.  There are only 16 games in an NFL season; baseball plays 162 games.  A win or loss in football is worth 10 times a loss in baseball.  A great baseball team can have two 5 game losing streaks in a season.  That would be disaster in the NFL.

Football’s also a better sport for TV.  In reality, both sports take about 2 ½  - 3 hours to complete a game.  Football seems faster because it is easier to follow as teams move up and down the field.  While strategy in football is much more complex than baseball, the movement of players and the ball can be followed without the same attention that baseball requires.  A squeeze bunt or passed ball happens so fast that only a sophisticated fan who is paying close attention understands the impact.  Football has a clear stop before each play that gives fans a chance to know how many yards are needed for a first down, how close their team is to scoring.  Nothing is so simple in baseball.

Baseball calls itself America’s pastime, and it holds that title as a legacy.  Football rules.  Fans want to sit in front of a large screen and party.  They want to go to a bar and enjoy the game as a social activity with friends.  Baseball asks for more from its fans.  Maybe it asks for too much.  I will continue to watch and love both games, but I’m not going to fool myself.  In 2013, pro football is America’s pastime, if not its social religion.

Posted: September 7, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

What if the shoppers showed up and there were no workers?  That’s the dilemma the nation’s largest low wage employer/retailer could be facing on the day after Thanksgiving.  Common Dreams has reposted an article by Josh Eidelson of the Nation, who reports that Walmart workers across the U.S are discussing a major work stoppage on Black Friday.

Negotiation is all about leverage.  Walmart will never need its works so much as it will on Black Friday.  A major walk out on that day will send a message.  Hopefully Walmart and other workers will hear it.  All workers deserve a living wage.

Posted: September 6, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Normally I advise clients to use a concise cover letter that introduces their resumes and qualifications.  This goes against the “rules” posited experts who say that every cover letter must be unique.  Most employers don’t need the added information that belongs in the resume, not the cover letter.

A recent trend has altered my thinking to a small degree.  Some employers are asking job seekers to write cover letters that address specific questions.  In those cases, the cover letter must speak to that concern or you will not be considered as a candidate.  It is important to carefully read a job post to be sure that you are addressing its specific requirements.  If the employer asks for a specific cover letter, which occur in less than 5% of the job posts I’ve reviewed, your letter needs to be written to the terms of that job post.  Otherwise, you can use a template model that sells your value as a professional and pushes the employer to read your resume.